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End-of-Life Tire Recycling: Sustainable Solution

Autosphere » Tires » End-of-Life Tire Recycling: Sustainable Solution
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REVYRE has partnered with Tyromer in Canada to develop its sustainable process for recycling OtR and earthmover tires. PHOTO Tyromer

REVYRE has developed a unique and highly efficient way of recycling end-of-life tires while minimizing any environmental impact.

When it comes to tires, recycling and disposal have long been a challenging process to perform cost-effectively, efficiently and sustainably.

With the current focus on environmentally friendly practices across the globe as it relates to disposal and recycling, the tire industry has also been making significant strides in this field.

Recently, Autosphere learned about some new developments on the other side of the world in Australia and New Zealand.

In 2020 InfraCo and Energy Estate announced REVYRE—a joint venture partnership designed to address the issue of end-of-life tires in this market.

Circular process

What’s really intriguing is that the REVYRE solution re-purposes a full 100% of tire constituents by a circular process that generates virtually zero emissions and no toxic chemicals or by-products.

This technology has been designed to disintegrate most types of tires and recover the rubber compound and scrap materials which can then be re-used to make new tires and other black rubber-sourced products.

While the emphasis is currently on the Australia and New Zealand market, the REVYRE solution does have a Canadian connection, as we found out when speaking to CEO Shaun Zukor.

Tire recycling strategy

Autosphere: Can you tell us a little about the strategy you took in terms of tire recycling and the type of tires you decided to focus on?

Shaun Zukor: It really started with the concept of bringing together two technologies to deal with a long-standing problem, namely how do we dispose of a product like tires?

Historically, tires have been difficult to get rid of, because they’ve been designed for long-term durability.

There are an inordinate number of tires in circulation and in order to dispose of them, you need a robust process in place.

A lot of recycling outfits tend to struggle because of the costs associated with processing end-of-life tires, the quality of the material they receive from doing it and the value they are able to realize from the process.

As a result, we decided to take an entirely different approach by looking at the input and output resources.

We knew we didn’t want to compete in an environment where passenger vehicle tires are put through a mechanical shredder, simply because, the resulting textile, steel and crumb tend to fetch low prices.

For us, these low prices, combined with low volumes and a lot of work required to perform the task simply wouldn’t make it economically feasible.

Instead, we decided to look at tire sizes from truck and bus radial tires up to the largest tires know to man in the OtR or earthmoving categories.

Because of the size and high steel content, these tires aren’t cost-effective for mechanical shredding because they quickly wear out the teeth on the mechanical shredders, which are extremely expensive to replace.

We then centred on OtR tires because one tire weighs approximately 5.5 tons and 25% of its construction is steel and by processing one unit, you create a lot more material while performing the same amount of work.

OtR tires for the most part, are not recycled around the world because of their size.

Also, because the constituent parts of OtR tires contain a much greater content of natural rubber, they are a lot more sought after and valuable, plus the makeup and engineering of these tires are pretty similar from one brand to another.

This is important when creating polymer compounds for re-use and mitigates quality variability.

Recycling process

How did the process for recycling develop from there?

SZ: When we looked at recycling OtR tires, we realized the process of mechanical shredding would be far too expensive and inefficient.

So, we started looking at other ways to do it effectively.

One solution we found came via a company called RubberJet, based in Milan, Italy.

RubberJet has been able to disintegrate tires with high-pressure water.

This works via a continuous, automated process that strips all of the rubber from the tire carcass, leaving the steel largely intact.

As a result, the process is very “clean” with the rubber coming out the other end being highly pure, due to contaminants being removed.

We realized this was a novel and effective way for stage one of the process, but we also knew that if we could reprocess the resulting material, it would be much more valuable.

REVYRE and Canada

There is a Canadian connection to all this isn’t there?

SZ: Yes. As we looked further into the recycling process, we came across Tyromer, based in Waterloo, Ont.

They are a company created by the University of Waterloo to commercialize a rubber devulcanization technology a process. It was originally developed by Professor Costas Tzoganakis at the University’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

Collaborating with AirBoss Rubber Compounding, Tyromer has pioneered this process at the AirBoss facility in Kitchener, Ont., and has also expanded this process to a facility in China and one in Arnhem in The Netherlands.

Tyromer is able to take a crumb product and feed that into an extruder, with inert carbon dioxide serving as a catalyst for devulcanization.

The result is a raw, devulcanized master black-based substitute.

The market sector that Tyromer targeted dealt specifically with tier one tire manufacturers in adopting this technology in markets such as North America and Europe, with the idea of it filtering down to tier 2, tier 3 and tier 4 operators.

In Canada, Kal Tire is one company that uses more than 20% of this compound for OtR tire repair and retreading.

REVYRE and Tyromer

As far as REVYRE is concerned, how are all the pieces fitting together?

SZ: We’ve formed an alliance and partnership with Tyromer in Canada and RubberJet in Italy to bring the high-water pressure disintegration and devulcanization technologies together under one roof.

The biggest challenge with OtR tire recycling facilities relates to transportation, due to the distance between the processing facility and the remote locations of many mines where these tires are used, simply due to the volume and weight to move them by truck.

We are already working on opening our first facility in Australia and are busy with the development application with the Mount Isa Council in Queensland.

This will be one of our first sites and then simultaneously that will lead to our second Australian facility in the New South Wales special activation precinct in the Parkes district, and then our third site, which will be one of five locations in New Zealand.

In the interim, we have put together the business case and financial model, along with the feedstock supply.

Entering into end-of-life markets should present us with a solid opportunity, given the high value and functionality of the material that results from this unique tire recycling process, which can compete with raw materials used in new tire construction.

And, although there aren’t really any tire compounding or manufacturing facilities in Australia or New Zealand at present, by basing our operations here we are still close enough to Asia to be able to access those and other global markets.

Effect of supply chain and material shortages

How do you think current supply chain disruptions and material shortages are impacting the tire sector and how can an entity like REVYRE help plug any perceived gaps in the market?

SZ: We have seen from a macro perspective that the natural rubber supply is under threat, both from rubber tree blight (a disease that makes trees lose their leaves and results in no photosynthesis and thus no latex production) and global demand which has depleted much of the existing stocks.

For us, because we supply a substitute for the raw materials needed to make tires at a discounted price against those materials, it does present an opportunity for early adoption.

It also provides a chance to consistently deliver our own, valuable polymer within the marketplace and provide a hedge against volatile price and demand fluctuations for natural rubber, synthetic rubber and carbon black.

Global rollout plans

AS: In terms of global rollout trajectories is there anything you can discuss at present?

SZ: We are obviously already establishing a presence in Australia and New Zealand, as well as having discussions in South America with Colombia and Chile, as well in Sub-Saharan Africa (Botswana).

The plan is to roll this out over the next decade with the objective of having multiple processing plants all over the world.

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